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The Battalion

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Students react to professor COVID-19 precaution incentives

With+a+return+to+full-capacity+and+in-person+learning%2C+Texas+A%26amp%3BM+professors+across+campus+are+encouraging+students+to+mask-up+and+are+offering+incentives+in+response+to+a+rise+in+COVID-19+cases.%26%23160%3B
Photo by Photo by Abbey Santoro

With a return to full-capacity and in-person learning, Texas A&M professors across campus are encouraging students to mask-up and are offering incentives in response to a rise in COVID-19 cases. 

With a full return to in-person classes, many professors fearful of catching COVID-19 on campus are pleading with students to take proper precautions, including mask wearing while inside the classroom.
According to the Faculty Questions Regarding Fall 2021 Teaching on the faculty senate website, professors can offer extra credit for masking and social distancing in the classroom.
“You can provide an incentive that is similar to extra credit opportunities you may have provided in the past for other reasons,’’ the website reads. “If those are for a graded activity then such incentives should be reasonable in terms of other work required for the class. Consideration should also be given to provide reasonable and equitable alternatives to students who elect not to wear a mask to avoid having a situation where students are treated differently academically based on mask wearing. Faculty can also ask students to follow the recommendation of the Executive Order that strongly encourages all Texans ‘as a matter of personal responsibility to consistently follow good hygiene and other mitigation practices.’”
Many professors have made generous offers to students to promote such behavior with incentives that are too hard to beat when it comes to masking in class. Whether it is on a class or individual basis and what the terms are to receive the credit is up to each individual professor on a case by case basis.
Visualization senior Paige Miller said when she went to one of her classes on the first day about one-quarter of the class was wearing masks. This quickly changed when the professor offered the class a deal — if everyone wore masks then they would make every test open note and make some group projects extra credit as well.
“After the first day, every single person has worn a mask every single day since then,” Miller said. “Now everybody walks in wearing a mask, and if they don’t have one, they ask around if anyone has an [extra] mask.”
Miller said her professor explained to the class how they have kids who were too young for the vaccine, so they wanted to make sure they did not bring the virus home with them during their time on campus.
“This new delta variant is kind of really dangerous to younger people now, so [they] just want to play it safe and keep the class safe,” Miller said.
She said her professor is in the middle of the classroom while teaching, so they are able to ensure the mask wearing is happening by all. The professor told Miller’s entire
class that everyone has to wear a mask if they would like the extra credit and open note tests.
“It’s a pretty small room. It’s not a huge class, there’s maybe like 30 or 40 people in it,” Miller said. “[They] can tell if someone’s wearing a mask or not because now they kind of stand out, but [they] pass out a sign-in sheet and everything, so [they] kind of keep track of where everyone sits and who everyone is wearing a mask or not.”
Due to the incentives offered, Miller said she believes everyone in class will continue to wear a mask, though this is not the case in her other classes.
“I’ve had other classes where the professors have requested the students wear a mask and there’s some people who just don’t,” Miller said. “But [they] are the only professor I’ve had that actually came up with an incentive, and that’s the only class I’ve seen where 100 percent of the people wear their mask when they’re asked to.”
Engineering sophomore Olivia Makanga said one of her professors is also offering open note tests and other extra credit assignments to encourage mask compliance in the classroom. She said she feels mask wearing is the best way to handle the uncertainty of vaccine rates on campus.
“I feel like since there’s those people who have not gotten vaccinated, wearing a mask is just one of the most effective ways for everyone to stay safe and make sure it doesn’t spread,” Makanga said.
Similar to Miller, Makanga said her other classes without the incentive also had minimal mask wearing.
“I can probably count on my hand how many people are wearing a mask, maybe both of my hands, but not a lot of people wear masks in my other classes,” Makanga said.
Education senior Beth Arnold said in many of her classes, there is very minimal mask wearing. She said no incentives were offered in her classes, but she has had professors explain personal stories of their own risks.
“I’m going to say most of my classes, it’s pretty much like me and one other person wearing a mask,” Arnold said. “There’s really not a lot of people at all.”
Arnold said she had a professor who had a student test positive within the first two days of school. She said her professor pleaded with them to wear a mask for both the classes’s safety and their own.
“[They said they] didn’t even feel comfortable sleeping in the same bed with [their significant other] because [the significant other] has a heart condition and is older,” Arnold said. “[The professor said they] don’t want to kill him [by infecting them with COVID-19].”
Arnold said her professor mentioned some colleagues in the department resigning due to their worries about their health and safety, causing other professors to pick up the slack.
“[Professors] basically feel put at risk because students aren’t wearing masks,” Arnold said. “My professor pleaded to us, ‘Please, just wear a mask,’ and some kids in the class put a mask on, but the next week, kids still weren’t showing up with masks.”
As COVID-19 cases on campus continue to rise, Makanga said she encourages other campus members to continue to practice COVID-19 procedures as precautionary measures to prevent the spread on campus.
“Make sure you wash your hands for 20 seconds, carry hand sanitizer and try to distance yourself from other people as much as possible because I know campus is really tight,” Makanga said.

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